Culture Shock – Fitting In

This is a rather delicate subject matter as I have a lot of opinions surrounding this. Having been a Diplomatic Kid, there were and still are very few moments I feel I fit in, chidhood is hard enough when you stay put, but when you mix in moving constantly, it brings on a whole other level of crazy. Actually, I don’t really like the idea of fitting in, I like the idea of finding a tribe, people who are like you, but can also lift you up when you are down.

Let me paint a little picture. When we first moved to this suburb, I did what I always do, dive in and become social. I had people over, hosted parties, and organized a Mums Night Out. Last year, something began to shift in me. I realized, I was tired of living in a suburb, and living this life. It seems to happen like clock work, after year 3, I am done. Obviously, I have a 7 year old to think of, and have promised myself that I wouldn’t keep moving, I wanted my son to have the roots I never had, even though I have no idea how to create roots. Last year, I became depressed, and my PTSD came back to haunt me. I began to gain weight, and I wasn’t sure what I needed or wanted.

So, I retreated, began to meditate and reflect on what it was that a) I wanted b) where I was going wrong. Over the last 6 months, I began going to museums on my own, going to the gym regularly, and started to take Spanish and Dutch for fun. My whole demeanor changed, I am calm, happy, and intellectually fulfilled.

Last week, I had been invited to a charity luncheon with the group of ladies that I had made when I first moved here. I hadn’t really heard from them, I occasionally see them at school pickup, but I haven’t attempted to reach out to them. They certainly have made no effort to contact me, in fact, i think they only invited me to fill the table.  I arrived, I was happy and delighted to experience the lunch, and art around me, but I was more interested in learning about the charity than talking about decorating, building or shopping for various pieces in the house. I was bored. When it was time to leave, I gathered my things, and all of them, and I mean every single woman who had driven, turned to the other mother who had walked and asked if she needed a ride. No one even looked at me, or acknowledged my existence.  For the first time in my life, I laughed in my head. That insecure Diplomatic Kid inside of me, was no longer insecure, but completely happy and secure. It was a weird moment of letting go.

I had agreed months ago, to go to a ladies Christmas party at a friend’s house last night. I showed up, no one greeted me, no one batted an eyelash when I walked in. They were too busy hugging each other. They were all talking about the shopping trip they had made together, and how much their husbands don’t listen or buy them, what they want. I quietly went into the kitchen to get water, I was accosted by one Mother who claimed loudly “are you still doing that no drinking thing?”, I nodded, and just said “yes”. Apparently, not drinking and working out, makes people feel really uncomfortable. I smiled and started to deflect and ask questions. I stayed for over an hour, and then decided it was time to exit as everyone began to drink more heavily, and rant about their daft husbands. It was the first time I noticed, they were all truly unhappy, and had negative energy. I realized in that moment, I have always tried to fit in, but trying to fit in doesn’t make you happy, it just makes you depressed. I have spent my whole life being 2 different people, as I hated sharing the Diplomatic side to those who weren’t part of that life. In reality, that is the only side of me, I am and will forever be, a Third Culture Kid. I was so happy last night, even as I had been excluded completely, I knew deep inside of me, who I was, and where I was going.

The fact it has taken me this long to really work on my own happiness, which frankly, happens with Mothers, we think of everyone else before ourselves. I noticed a few things, I don’t want to be friends with unhappy people, nor do I want to surround myself with people who don’t want to explore the world or spend energy lifting people up. Where I feel most comfortable, is talking about the world, the next adventure, how to do all this with a child, and exercise, I love exercising and eating clean 99% of the time. As I was thinking all of this, I got a text from a fellow Diplomatic Kid, it was like the universe was giving me a big sign! I told her where I was, and she laughed. She basically expressed the exact same sentiment, that the only time she felt she fit in, was letting go, and being herself.

As a kid, the concept of fitting in, is pretty intense, especially when you move so often. With every move, comes an intense insecurity. That insecurity seems to follow you into adulthood. I was not insecure going into adulthood, as I began working at Foreign Affairs, which was comforting on so many levels. When I became a Mother, and had made a switch to leave Foreign Affairs, I began to feel vulnerable and insecurities began to fill me. Breaking the cycle, took a lot of work, but it is all possible no matter what stage in life you are in. You have to embrace who you truly are, flaws and all.


Culture Shock

I remember her vividly, she was an incredible athlete, our star soccer player, but with the worst negative attitude you can imagine. Of course, we didn’t care, we all tried to talk her through it every day. She had her moments where she let down her guard when she relaxed and you could see she was enjoying herself, then, she would turn.

Charlotte and I had moved to Caracas, Venezuela at the same time. She was American, and of course I was Canadian. We both left a great group of friends, and a home we loved, well, that isn’t all true. Charlotte left a great group of friends, so did I, but I chose this posting with my parents. I wanted to move again. Charlotte on the other hand, was not open to this new experience. By new, I don’t think she had ever seen a poor neighbourhood even in the U.S. In Caracas, the barrios surrounded us, you could turn a corner, and there was someone who was way worse off than anyone you had ever seen homeless in North America. Charlotte was negative, scared, and in paralysis the moment I met her. She had blinders on, every great thing that she could experience in Venezuela, was always topped by something greater that she was either missing out on, or could do back in the U.S.

In one of my many bathroom breaks to either cry, or sort through my own culture shock. I found her curled up on the floor, crying softly, rocking herself. I knew she had to have hit rock bottom, she was sitting on a floor o a bathroom that hadn’t been cleaned in years (not all international schools are created equally), it was beyond disgusting, it was coated with years of filth from sheer neglect. It was an odd sight, she rarely showed any kind of vulnerability. At that point, I barely knew anything about her, only that she was an incredible soccer player, and was American. I sat down on the sticky floor, and put my arm around her, and just sat with her while she cried. I knew she didn’t need to talk, she just needed to let out all her anxiety, and frustration. We sat on the floor for an hour, our teachers had checked up on us, but like all International Schools, they knew there were few places to find us in the gated complex. I never found out what set her off that day, we never spoke about it again, but I knew, her pain must have run pretty deep. She never got off her negative cycle. She just kept pushing everyone away, and not knowing what to do with herself in the new environment.

Charlotte and I weren’t really friends, I never found out what happened to her after that year. All I knew, was she was the perfect example of things spiraling out of control when you let Culture Shock take over, and become a permanent state of mind. Most people will be happy to point out that Culture Shock is a temporary state, it is, but not always. I have known people to never snap out of culture shock for a whole posting, that is 3 years not enjoying any aspect of the environment around you, missing out on incredible experiences, all because you are terrified to let go.

This is what most parents need to know. Culture shock is something you have to help guide your kids through. Kids are not resilient, I still hate that saying. Kids have just as big feelings as adults, but they haven’t yet learned any tools to help guide themselves through those feelings. Charlotte was 15, she had complex feelings and anxieties, but she never got the guidance to navigate through all of the complex feelings she had going through what I suspected was her first face to face with Culture Shock. She was most probably resentful of her parents for forcing her to move.

No. 1 lesson, don’t ever put down your kids feelings about moving!